Thursday, December 31, 2015

So long 2015! What a "teaching" year!

Well, 2015 is done!  Grades are in, courses are complete, and things are in process for next year.  Next spring I am not teaching, so I am thinking about cool (and instructive) things I can implement for the course that I am scheduled to teach this summer (intro to instructional design).

I won't work too hard on next summer's course just yet, too many other things to consider first.  That said, I realized late in December that 2015 was an interesting teaching year for me.  I am usually only allowed to teach 2 courses per calendar year, but through some fluke - and departmental needs- I ended up teaching three courses, all of which were at different ends of the spectrum for learners.  One of the courses was for learners around the mid-point of their learner career, one at the beginning, and one at the end.  It was also an interesting year because I handed off the course that I've taught for a long time to a friend and colleague, and I picked two other courses up that I had not taught before, so course continuity was also in my mind.

So, in the spring I taught INSDSG 684 (The design and instruction of online courses). The class was rather small (for such an important course these days), but I think it's partly my reputation as being a demanding instructor that has caught up with me ;-).  The course was mostly what I inherited from Linda B., with a few changes to keep the readings current and up-to-date.  For the fall semester I passed off the course to my colleague Rebecca, and it was at that time that I was really needing to explain the course in general.  When I got the course from Linda I did not receive a design document with ideas, specs, and rationale for certain activities, so as someone who has done Quality Matters I was left thinking through that framework - looking for things in the course that satisfy the requirements for QM, but without knowing for certain if that was the intent.  I think that if I went back in time, I would have re-done the course and documented the heck out of it for instances like this when a hand-off is necessary.  Things that were good practice in computer science (document your code) are also good practice in instructional design - document your designs!  This process also gave me pause to consider departmental course continuity beyond the syllabus.  I wonder if other instructors out there think in terms of such depth for their course designs.

In the summer, just by chance, I ended up teaching INSDSG 601 (introduction to instructional design), which is actually the first course, and a prerequisite for all other instructional design courses.  This time around I ended up looking at the course with a fine-tooth comb.  I looked at what was on Blackboard from previous instructors, I looked at assignments, and at three different syllabi.  It was quite interesting to see three implementations of the course, two designed for online and one for in-person.  I wasn't particularly happy with the versions of the course I saw, especially considering that I had seen students down the stream (in 684) for a few years and I had assumed certain skills that some did not have when they arrived at the course.  I started thinking about what an intro course should have, and how it should setup learners for success down the road - if they continued to be learners in this program, or for lifelong learning, if this was their only course in instructional design.

The two biggest things that I didn't like about previous implementations were:

  1. They were using videos created by an instructor who was no longer teaching in the program.  While the 20-minute lectures were fine, I think that there is something 'off' when the person teaching the course is different from the person you listen to each week on lectures.  It's fine to collect various TeacherTube and YouTube videos in your course (from different people), but when there is one person who is regularly lecturing to your course (and introduces themselves as an instructor in one of them), I think there is some potential for confusion on the part of the learner.  At the very least, to me, it signals that the instructor doesn't even care enough to redo the videos.
  2. I think parts of the course were bolted on to an existing frame (instead of preconceiving the instructional design of the course).  This meant that research papers and mid-terms exams (where you were tested on procedural knowledge) found their way into what I (primarily) conceive of as a studio course. 
So, I ended up redesigning the course, introducing learners to technologies, theories, concepts, and methodologies that they would see later on.  There is an aspect of learner choice in the course - both in deliverable formats and in topics to choose from - but the idea is still that of a studio course.  I rather enjoyed working on this redesign since I actually got to document quite a few things.  It's not as documented as I ask learners to document in their designs, however I think that's the difference between real life and a demonstration in an academic exercise.  I think I am probably teaching the same course in summer 2016, so I have an opportunity to tweak things!

One of the things that really came up (over and over) is that learners cannot separate grades from performance.  Last year I wasn't sure who to do ✓, ✓+, and ✘ in Blackboard, so I ended up using 50 (for the ✘), 80 for a ✓, and 100 for a ✓+.  The ✓+ is really meant to be an above and beyond type of grade (if you get a lot of ✓+ that means that you might not be in the right course).  I can't recall how many students were concerned that they were only getting a B- in the course (because all they were seeing was the 80 in assignments).  This time around I think I've figured out how to do ✓, ✓+, and ✘, so I'll see if there is a change in perception from learners.  Should be interesting.

Finally, in the fall I ended up advising in the capstone seminar, seeing students at the other end of the spectrum.  I think the challenge in undertaking this course is that you have a certain expectation of what learners, those who are almost credentialed instructional designers, should be able to do and the discourse that they should be able to produce in their documents. When deliverables are shy of those expectations it's challenging at times to come to a common understanding because the learners are also frustrated by this experience as well - that of being in their final course but things not being as easy as they thought they might be.  The experience here I think showed me that all faculty in a program should take turns being the advisor or grader in a final exercise.  This way they all get to see where structural weak points are in a program so that they can be addressed in the curriculum.  When only one or two faculty undertake this they might just sound like broken records and ignored.

Finally, to wrap things up, I've seen comments from colleagues over the years about 'final exam season' being 'student drama' season; you know of the country song variety - spouse left me, took my dog and my truck, and left me with the moving bill - or something along those lines.  I think that even jokingly this is potentially problematic because true student drama cases are probably few and far between, and joking about it being the season for student drama (potentially) predisposes us from expecting the worse from students. So, I guess - my advice going into 2016 is this: expect more from your students, not less and definitely not drama :-)

Happy 2016!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The student's year-end-review

Socrates Badge, by @merryspaniel
It's a bit hard to believe, but two years ago - around this time of year - I was scurrying to get my application into Athabasca University to have my application considered for Cohort 7.  The deadline for Athabasca's program is at the same time as the deadline for my department (January 15th), so I was trying to make sure that my recommendations were all in order.  I had applied to another program prior to Athabasca (surprisingly enough I never heard back from them...) so I had tapped into my referee base already and I didn't want to burn them out (again).

Well, things worked out, my application went in, and I made the short list (#woot!).  Now, with a year-and-a-half under my belt, I am about to begin EDDE 804 (Leadership and Project Management in Distance Education).  The Moodle course isn't available yet (darn!) so I can't yet tell much of the actual mechanics and slant that the course will take.  I am wondering how much overlap there will be with my MBA and through what lenses the MBA background and knowledge can (and will) be filtered, interpreted, and applied through. It should be an interesting course.  I started reading one of the texts, Higher education and the new society, but between holidays, a winter cold, and pending home improvement projects, I think I'll wait until I get back to work and use my commute time as my book-reading time.  The other text, Leadership for 21st century learning: Global perspectives from educational innovators, seems more like cases and specific examples, so since I don't retain much in terms of long term memory for these things, I might just wait until the semester starts and tackle those on a week-by-week basis.  As a learner I've re-discovered (many, many, times) that the fall semester is probably my favorite semester.  I have four (or five) months between semesters and I am able to sit down and read - at my own pace - and explore readings in depth before I have to discuss them in the course.  While I can work under the time pressure, it's definitely not the way I prefer to consume and process information.

In any case, seeing as it is two years since I started applying to Athabasca - and I had to write about my dissertation plans in my statement - I thought I would revisit where I am on that front.  While I don't have to make up my mind until comprehensive exam time about my dissertation, I think it helps to keep an eye on the ball.

Before I applied to AU, I was thinking of doing something something that dealt with language learning through MOOCs.  An initial idea was this one here, where I made some proposals on how to look at language learning through MOOCs, and in specific I was thinking cMOOCs. This was a potential plan if I were to apply to the University of Athens (Greece) at one of their language and linguistics departments.  Due to strikes that didn't work out, but I kept the idea alive.  When I applied to AU, another idea I was thinking about was learner motivation in MOOCs, both xMOOC and cMOOC.  I was interested in seeing what spurred learners to sign up for MOOCs to begin with, and what made them 'complete' MOOCs - and of course did they meet their goals by 'completing' the MOOC.  The notion of completion was something that I also wanted to explore.  While that was an interesting topic, I sort of lost steam on it as my own interests grew, and as others started exploring this territory.

I also wanted to be more pragmatic with my dissertation.  Dissertations don't really get cited in research much, and I feel as though they are one last run through the park with the training wheels on to make sure that an institution is unleashing a capable and ethical researcher into the world; thus a dissertation isn't necessarily some sort of magnum opus that will get you loads of citations (not that I care a ton about citations, but it is a metric that academia seems to use).

So, as I am writing this post and staring at my blackboard, here are some other ideas that came up during 2015 for a dissertation (most of which are rejects at this point for dissertation purposes):

  • Study of lurking in MOOCs
  • Effects of a learner's social network graph in 'completion' of a MOOC
  • Meta-analysis of MOOC research literature: Finding and major trends
  • Barriers to learning in open online courses
  • Motivations in open online courses (not "massive"  so a refinement of the original idea)
  • MOOC Pedagogy evolution (more of a historical analysis thing)
  • Corpus Analysis of  cMOOC or xMOOC Forum activity
  • Digital Badges study --> design + learning outcomes
  • Comparison of improvement of learner motivation in traditional online courses when using digital badges in lieu of graded (0-100%) assignments. While this is an interesting action-research project, the data collection is dependent on me teaching, and at the moment I have to wait one year between teaching cycles.

So, a ton of ideas.  Now that I jotted them down from here, I erased them from my blackboard ;-)

The idea that seems to be sticking though, and I am seriously considering, is somewhat of an autoethnography.  When I was thinking about what I've worked on the past few years, and one of the reasons I ended up applying to AU, those reasons were online learning, lifelong learning, and MOOC related.  So, the current though on the dissertation is this:  Attempt to do a dissertation-by-publication style of dissertation. Luckily there is someone from Cohort 5 who is piloting this, so I don't have to be guinea pig :-).  I was thinking of three articles:
  1. Autoethnography of an unlikely lifelong learner (I really disliked school, so it's kind of odd to be interested in education at this point).  This might be the first article before I look at my blog data and 'taint' my own reflections and analysis on learning. Need to do more research on Autoethnography as a research method. This would be article #1
  2. Look at my own posts tagged with "MOOC" and specific MOOCs I've participated in - as well as various MOOC providers (coursera, edx, etc), and take a grounded theory approach to analyzing my MOOC related posts (which at this point are close to 300). This would be article #2.
  3. Finally, go through my MOOC related blog posts, again, and conduct a critical discourse analysis on them. This would be article #3.
  4. Perhaps for article #4 (if things work out) I could do a meta-analysis piece where I could look at findings from the three articles and triangulate learning by and through MOOCs.
  5. Then, wrap a nice intro and conclusion on this and bam! done! (hopefully)
Initially I was thinking that a single-subject research approach wouldn't get much traction, but in talking to one of my cohort-mates who works in the field of applied behavioral analysis (where single-subject research is the norm?), and in reading more about autoethnography, I am thinking this might just work.  At the very least I don't have to (1) get IRB/REB approval to research myself, and (2) I don't need to wait one year between data collection cycles.  Now all I have to do is to convince the committee that this is worthwhile ;-)

So there you have it folks.  Two years since I started on this crazy journey in doctoral studies. it's hard to believe that in a year's time from now I will be working on my comprehensive exam... time flies!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

MOOCs and the Art Studio

Back for another review of a chapter in the book titled Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future (an IGI global title).  This time I am reviewing (a little) chapter 4 and jumping off from there.  The chapter title is "PMOOCs and the Art Studio: A Catalyst for Innovation and Change in eLearning Development and Studio Pedagogies", and based on the title this chapter had me intrigued.  I am not very familiar with Studio-Based education, so was looking forward to learning a little more about that as well.  This might be a good chapter for fellow Athabascan (or Athabascian?) from Cohort 6.

Anyway the abstract for this chapter is as follows:

The challenges of MOOCs are currently a significant issue for universities. New contexts of openness, massiveness and collaboration on the Web are challenging traditional forms of university education delivery. These challenges are catalysts for change both generally and in studio pedagogies in particular. This chapter focus on how disruption caused to traditional art studio teaching models occur through intersection with MOOC activity. The provision of studio arts subjects by MOOC providers is also shown to be innovative for MOOC design and delivery. The authors show these challenges by drawing on their participation in two arts based MOOCs, The Art of Photography and Practice Based Research in the Arts. The MOOC pedagogies of openness, massiveness and collaboration, provide opportunities inherent in studio-based arts delivery which contemporary MOOC platforms rarely achieve. The authors draw into question potential frameworks for evaluating choosing and designing contemporary MOOC activity. This chapter falls within the ‘policy issues in MOOCs design' with specific relevance for the topic of ‘technology and change management for the MOOCs environment'.

This article was fairly decent in my view. The article took an autoethnographic approach to research where the two faculty members decided to experiment first-hand with MOOCs (xMOOCs) from a learner's perspective to learn more about them and how specific instantiations of MOOCs worked, what strengths and weaknesses these MOOC approaches had, and how they might be used in studio education.  It's not the first time that I've read of faculty members taking MOOCs as learners in order to see how they work, but I think that this might be one of the few times that fellow faculty come in with an analytic and inquisitive eye, and they put themselves into the learner frame of reference. Other times it seems like faculty have an axe to grind and what they write is total garbage based on a non-analysis, colored by their own perception of what learning should look like.

In any case.  Another benefit here, in this chapter, for me what that the two MOOCs pursued were actually from lesser known providers: Open2Study in Australia and NovoEd (apparently a Stanford University experiment).  I've taken courses in Open2Study, and I have taken one course on NovoEd, so it was interesting to compare their experiences with my own.  The funny thing is that I had taken the Open2Study course they described in this article and I found myself reflecting back to the mechanics of O2S courses, and that course in specific.  I think that is someone has not taken an Open2Study course, or a course on NovoEd, this article give you a little taste of the mechanics of those two platforms, the strengths, and some of the frustrations.

From the description of what studio education is, it sounded to me that the cMOOC (or something like that) might actually make much more sense if you are thinking about a MOOC that has the same (or similar) frame of mind as studio based education (Hmmm.. wonder what Lisa thinks about this).

The one thing that was brought up was the meaning of the world Massive.  O2S courses are basically 4 weeks long, regardless of the course topic. Once the course is over, you can actually take it again in the subsequent month, so I think there are 12 opportunities in a year to take a course.  While this cuts down on the 'massiveness' of one section's registration, I do wonder if it enables learners to take the MOOC when they feel they have the time, as opposed to signing up and either lurking or not participating at all because they don't have time.  If they don't have time, you might ask why do they sign up?  Well, fear of missing out  (FOMO) might be one reason, but there is also the ability to just download the videos (or access them later in the case of Edx), so you sign up when the registration period is open. I wonder if the FOMO is lessened by this, if fewer people sign up for different sections, but the engagement/registrant ratio is higher.

Anyway, interesting chapter.  Worth a read if you are new to MOOCs, and especially these platforms.

Your thoughts?

Errey, H., & McPherson, M. J. (2015). MOOCs and the Art Studio: A Catalyst for Innovation and Change in eLearning Development and Studio Pedagogies. In E. McKay, & J. Lenarcic (Eds.) Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future (pp. 61-73). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference. doi:10.4018/978-1-4666-8324-2.ch004

Friday, December 18, 2015

Democratization of Education - How do you define this?

I've been trying to catch up with things I've saved in my Pocket reading list over the course of this past semester, and one of the articles (or blog posts?) came across was about how MOOCs have failed to democratize education, and given that this was one of the fundamental goals of MOOCs this is a problem.

I don't think I know where exactly this goal, or rhetoric, about democratizing education came from.  I suspect that it was somewhere in the xMOOC discourse around the end of 2011 and the beginning of 2012.  Even if xMOOC providers, and their proponents, didn't initiate this discourse, they certainly capitalized on it by providing cases of poor learners, who would normally not be served by higher education given their backgrounds, and MOOCs could help. It's easy when you have prodigies to start with, but that's a whole other story. The point is that xMOOC providers just added some fuel to the fire since this discourse suited them. And, it's not a bad goal to have, but you don't start with a service and say your service provides for that demographic.  You do a needs analysis on that demographic and build your services with those constraints and information in mind.  Anyway I digress, back to democratizing...

So, this author (who I am failing to remember right now), claims that MOOCs (xMOOCs I guess) seem to be taken and completed by people who already have college or graduate work completed, and they aren't the main beneficiaries of MOOCs.  Since there isn't a majority of poorer, non-college educated students who are benefiting from this, the goal of democratizing education is essentially bust.  I disagree.

I think everyone has latched on to democratization of education meaning only that education is available to those who have not had any education of this type in the past, so anyone who has not attended college.  I ascribe to a broader, more liberal, meaning of democratization of education, one which encompasses providing access to education in an open manner to anyone who desires it regardless of their background.  Just because someone has already gone to college and graduated, it doesn't mean that they want their education to stop.  I see the democratization of education as being able to provide accessible portals into lifelong learning, being a 'palace of the people' (sort of like the Boston Public Library) where people come to gain knowledge for development and delight.

While it is true that college graduates (hopefully) have some means to sustain themselves through gainful employment, it doesn't necessarily mean that they have the time to attend credit-bearing courses, or the money to spend on them.  If all they want to do is learn something new, either for professional or personal reasons, paying for a college course binds you in terms of time and cost. Work and family usually come before continued and life-long education, so it's something that's always thought of last.  Democratizing education to me means making the option for education, regardless of your educational background, more accessible in terms of flexibility of time, flexibility of cost, and flexibility in participation.

Just because one demographic has not benefitted from MOOCs (yet) doesn't mean that they are failing in democratization of education. It also does not mean that we should give up on that demographic.  Maybe MOOCs, and specific MOOC pedagogical designs, are better suited to that purpose.  Maybe MOOCs are not the answer, but a failure of democratization of education it is not.

What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Professional Learning through MOOCs

Back for another review of a chapter in the book titled Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future (an IGI global title).  This time I am reviewing (a little) chapter 3 and jumping off from there.  The chapter title is "Professional Learning through MOOCs?: A Trans-Disciplinary Framework for Building Knowledge, Inquiry, and Expertise", and based on the title it really had me hooked! This is a chapter that I was really looking forward to reading because it seemed like a good chapter to tackle workplace learning, professional development, talent development, and where MOOCs fit into this arena.  If you remember last year, some people had professed 2015 (or was it 2014?) to be the year that MOOCs made it into the enterprise (LOL).

Anyway, the abstract for this chapter is as follows:
This chapter will locate debates around MOOCs within a discussion on the purposes of higher education for professional learning and trends for trans-disciplinary approaches in designs for networked learning. The authors revisit the meaning of a ‘higher' education in contemporary tertiary contexts and within professional learning degrees and also examine the types of expertise required when designing for and facilitating learning in a MOOC open-style environment. In response to these aims, they offer a trans-disciplinary framework (Wadsworth, 2010) drawn from complex systems thinking in health, community and human services, to assist our enquiry into educational innovation. The authors suggest that a more nuanced understanding of the types of expertise required by those involved in macro-level learning occurring in MOOCs will lead towards a greater role in creating the next generation of multi-professional experts. They draw from the learning sciences, epistemologies on ways of being and becoming, and innovations with educational technologies.
This article, in the end for me, over-promised and under-delivered.  It's not that it's not that bad, but rather it's not that good.  I would have expected to read this article back in 2012 when xMOOCs were starting to become a 'force' in higher education and everyone was having their 15 minutes in the limelight when they were announcing MOOC platforms, MOOC offerings, MOOC initiatives and so on.  In 2015 the article does not really provide much new thought and perspective into the xMOOC discussion.  Seeing as the article is more of position paper, rather than empirical research, it's hard to see the value of adding their voice to the "MOOCs have issues, we need to address these" chant.

Another problem I had with this article is that it reinforces certain ideas and rhetoric around MOOCs and academic quality, research, and discourse in general.  For example the authors write that "The benefits of these open and online courses were their potential capacity to deliver high-quality education from the best institution and instructors to very large groups of people" (p. 48).  We've seen this before with "elite" institutions claiming that they are the well or watering hole where you can find self-proclaimed "the best lectures" from the self-proclaimed "best institutions". This type of discourse is highly problematic on many fronts (as I think I've written before on here), one of which being pedagogical in nature: the equation of lecturing at and learning. Another issue, related to the various "elites" is the reported (in this article) dearth of research articles about MOOCs in high impact academic journals - as if the impact factor of an academic journal has any bearing on the quality of research that is conducted and published.

The authors write that "neither the cMOOC or the xMOOC s seem to be adequately equipped to deliver educational outcomes at the higher knowledge domains and will therefore remain a testing group for various pedagogical approaches, rather than a viable alternative to a traditional university course" (p. 51).   I call BS on this, and it seems to me that the authors have little to no first hand experience with MOOCs (or any type).  My first issue is that the authors fail to identify what sorts of educational outcomes they are talking about.   Are we talking about undergraduate courses? graduate courses? introductory courses? advanced courses?  Not all courses are the same in terms of the requirements they have, and their educational outcomes.  I've been in quite a few cMOOCs, for example, that would give a graduate course a run for its money.  That said it was also up to the learner (me in this case) to maintain my motivation and pull through with my own goals within that given course.  All MOOCs might not be good for All educational outcomes, but you need to pair appropriate outcomes with appropriate modes of delivery and learner background.  I would not, for example, put a learner who is barely prepared to college into a MOOC on college writing.  That person needs much more personal feedback and support than current MOOCs can provide. That doesn't mean that a Creative Writing MOOC won't be useful and challenging to someone a little further with the skills they have.

Finally, the authors argue that you need experts to produce experts, so experts teaching other people who will become experts and providing mentoring.  While this may be one approach to developing talent, I don't think it's the only one.  I am reminded of many occasions where a whole lot of us 'peers' worked together to collectively increase our expertise in something.  We weren't experts, and didn't have experts to hold our hands, but we did it anyway.  That's how science progresses.  We collectively work together to explore the unknown, and in the process we become experts. I am also reminded of self-paced eLearning, where I had no peers online, back in the early 2000s, when my training in classroom A/V equipment came on CD for the multimedia and I logged into an online system for the self-placed text and image parts.  I worked at becoming an expert, through distance education, when no one else was around - not even an instructor.  The notion that you need experts to make experts is a bit off to me.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on this article. Your thoughts?

Lodge, J. M., & Lewis, M. J. (2015). Professional Learning through MOOCs?: A Trans-Disciplinary Framework for Building Knowledge, Inquiry, and Expertise. In E. McKay, & J. Lenarcic (Eds.) Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future (pp. 48-60). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference. doi:10.4018/978-1-4666-8324-2.ch003

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Quality of MOOCs?

Continuing on with the review of articles in the book titled Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future today I have a chapter dealing with quality of MOOCs

Chapter 2 is titled Quality Assurance for Massive Open Access Online Courses: Building on the Old to Create Something New. The abstract tells us:
Institutional quality assurance frameworks enable systematic reporting of traditional higher education courses against agreed standards. However, their ability to adequately evaluate quality of a MOOC has not been explored in depth. This chapter, Quality Assurance for Massive Open access Online Courses – building on the old to create something new, explores the added learning and teaching dimensions that MOOCs offer and the limitations of existing frameworks. Many components of a MOOC are similar to traditional courses and, thus, aspects of quality assurance frameworks directly apply, however they fail to connect with the global, unrestricted reach of an open learning and teaching platform. The chapter uses the University of Tasmania's first MOOC, Understanding Dementia, as a case. MOOC-specific quality assurance dimensions are presented in an expanded framework, to which the Understanding Dementia MOOC is mapped, to demonstrate its usefulness to a sector grappling with this new learning and teaching modality. This chapter continues the commentary on – Policy issues in MOOCs Design, through the topic of ‘quality issues critical comparison – contrasting old with new.'

This was an interesting article, not because of the MOOC angle, but really about learning more about accreditation and peer review in an Australian context.  The MOOC angle seemed...a little off.  There are two big questions that came up as I was reading this article:

  1. Why does an institution offer MOOCs?
  2. How does one measure 'quality' in an educational context?

Now, I know that we have frameworks available to us as educators to quantify the 'quality' of our online courses. One prime example is Quality Matters.  However, I think that all quantified means of measuring human learning do fall short.  I've passed many courses in my days as a learner (especially in required undergrad courses) where I just checked items off the list.  I knew the lines I was expected to paint in, and I did so proficiently enough to pass tests.  Hence, quality-wise, I guess that means that the course was good, since I passed, the course and the course had gone through the requisite steps of both internal and external review, but it doesn't mean I learned anything.

One of the proposals of the authors is that MOOC business models have failed to reflect 'reality' is because they have not  been integrated formally into university frameworks through quality assurance. I didn't see anything in this article that supports this hypothesis.  Quality is a tricky thing.  Unfortunately, for education I don't think that there isn't one simple solution to obtaining and measuring quality.  We have, in my opinion, come up with a system that tries to keep honest people honest, however I don't think this system of peer review, internal and external review, and course evaluation are any indication of quality.  Quality seems a bit elusive as a concept because it means different things to different people.

The type of quality we see described in traditional contexts is that of design.  Making sure that (a) goals and objectives match the (b) instructional activities , and that (c) assessments tie back to objectives, and that materials used tie back to a + b + c. This is a simplified view, but it's all about connecting the dots in course design.  Actual learning and application - once the class is over, is not usually something that is testable.  In the parlance of Kirkpatrick's model of evaluation, we undertake level 1 and level 2 evaluations, but we are not able to conduct level 3 or level 4, which would require us to have access to the learners after the fact for further testing.  In graduate programs where there might be a final capstone, portfolio, comprehensive exam, you might be able to conduct level 3 evaluations to some extent, but that's about it.

So, when we're talking about "quality" in MOOCs it's important to figure out what we mean by quality.  The other thing that makes MOOCs, in my opinion, a bit harder to assess, especially in implementation, is the variable learners in the course.  In traditional assessments of courses we know that courses need a minimum number of students to run (a business decision), so faculty can plan potential activities knowing the lower and upper limits.  In a MOOC this is pretty hard because registrations mean nothing. How are outcomes measured when there is a lot of potential flux?

In terms of making the decision to offer a MOOC, the big question is why do universities do this?  What's in it for them?  The public education and access mission of some schools might be a reason, but given the costs described by the authors of making a MOOC, why go through these steps?  Why not focus on OER development or something cheaper? I am sure that there is still hope for the academic youtube channel ;-) The authors write, rightly so, that MOOCs are not an easy path to revenue, so I am curious as to the reasons institutions decide to offer these MOOCs (other than the "they are new and shiny, and we must participate!" type of reason).

The authors, going back to quality assurance, claim that the "traditional approach of utilising external peer review to ensure that the course level learning outcomes are appropriately calibrated still has merit in the MOOC environment".  To a small extent I agree, if you are talking about specific xMOOCs with specific outcomes, and specific limitations. However, I am reminded of a comment a friend and colleague (Maha B) made somewhere online (twitter? blog? facebook?) about feeling constrained when she had to fully develop the course structure of a (traditional) online course before the course started. This didn't leave much flexibility for learner interests.    I see where Maha is coming from, and for experienced educators, while it makes me nervous, I keep an open mind.

Personally I like everything planned ahead of time for two reasons (1) I know an overall path I've designed, and I can work with it and help guide novice learners on rails, and I can also defend the design when it comes to a curriculum committee; and (2) it helps learners plan the semester to have something on rails.  That said, I do not like being rigid in my teaching - just because we have a roadmap it doesn't mean that we can take the path least travelled, or even go off the road.  This is little sidebar was with regard to 'regular' courses.

With MOOCs - given that they are a form of online education that we are still studying in their nascent state, to try to pigeonhole them into a rigid structure that was built in order to ensure that college credit was worth something comparable between institutions.  MOOCs are not credit-bearing courses. They are optional, free, open to entry and exit, and they don't award any college credit.  So why try to slice them and dice them by using measurements that are created for credit-bearing courses when the actual ethos and purpose of such courses is not the same as credit-bearing college courses?  Furthermore, MOOCs (again depending on the course) can be completely undeveloped from at the beginning.  There can be connecting and connective threads going from week to week, however the entire course structure need not be completed from the onset.  This is one of those constraints that exists with credit-bearing courses, but there is no reason for it to exist with MOOCs.

In the end, I think that the concept of 'quality' in a MOOC won't elicit a unified definition of what that looks like.



Walls, J., Kelder, J., King, C., Booth, S., & Sadler, D. (2015). Quality Assurance for Massive Open Access Online Courses: Building on the Old to Create Something New. In E. McKay, & J. Lenarcic (Eds.) Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future (pp. 25-47). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference. doi:10.4018/978-1-4666-8324-2.ch002

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Academic Trading Cards

I came across this in PhD comics the other day:

I am sure that the concept isn't novel  - I've been trying to get my friends and colleagues to do something like this for a few years no avail. ;-)  I wonder if anyone in the AU EDDE cohorts wants to try something like this.  Or, maybe, a Magic the gathering type of card game with academics.  If you draw the George Siemens card you get +5 on network powers for 3 turns.  What do you think? ;-)

Friday, December 11, 2015

Who's a teacher?

With the semester over, and the brain working on momentum, I've decided to capitalize on the spare brain-power, and time, to finally read a book that I agreed to write a review for back in the summer (yeah, I know - a tad bit late...). The book is a collection of articles titled Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future (an IGI global title).  I'll come back to the topic of the book as a whole after I am done with this process.  I think that going through chapter-by-chapters, picking and reacting to some things that piqued (and poked at) my interests is a little more interesting that trying to condense 15 chapters into one book review. This is sort of what I did with the #rhizoANT review.

Chapter 1 is titled Mining a MOOC: What Our MOOC Taught Us about Professional Learning, Teaching, and Assessment.  The abstract gives us a sense of the article:
In July 2014, a massive open online course (MOOC) entitled The Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills (ATC21S) was offered within the University of Melbourne's programme. Designed as a research engagement and dissemination initiative, the ATC21S MOOC enrolled 18,000 education practitioners, predominantly interested in teaching and assessment of complex 21st century skills. This chapter describes the experience of developing and teaching in the MOOC, and of learning through it. The authors suggest areas for ongoing research, and highlight areas in which MOOCs may stimulate broader change. This chapter commences the dialogue for the opening book section – policy issues in MOOCs Design, and responds to the topic of ‘emerging technology and change management issues for eLearning in the MOOCS environment.'
This article seemed a bit like an action research project, which is fine, but it did not really add to my own understanding of MOOCs. It does provide some data, which in aggregate can be considered as part of the xMOOC learning environment, but the MOOC aspect of the article didn't provide much for me personally.  On the other hand, some comments, and assumptions about technology, did pique my interest a bit.  For example, right from the start the authors comment that MOOC platforms are still in their infancy.  While this may be true when discussing platforms like coursera and udacity, we've had the LMS around for at least 20 years.

Another comment "The platform determines the organization of the materials and the processes of the course..." while, in it does ring true, it seems to me that taken together with the previous quote is sort of an excuse to work within the confines of what the MOOC LMS allows.  While I don't consider myself an EduPunk, it's kind of hard to think of MOOCs (these days) and conceive of people painting within the lines of the LMS when what kicked off MOOCs was this sense of the untamed and MacGyvering to reach your aims. In other words, your aims were not determined by what you had available.

The authors asks us to consider that "'teaching' should not be conflated with what a teacher does."  This is true, in a sense.  What a teacher does is teaching, however teaching isn't solely defined by the actions of a teacher.  Fellow students can be teachers as well, if we - for example - take a Vygotskian view of the more knowledgeable other who helps scaffold fellow learners to new learning. That said, I do find it a bit problematic to consider the platform as a teacher "who tirelessly organise[s] the learning experience".

While I do think that technologies can be actors in a learning network (at least from what I've read and experienced with the ANT readings) and they can influence how actors connect and work with other actors and knowledge in that network, I think that the authors of this paper are giving technology, and the LMS in particular, too much of an active role.  The LMS is an inert piece of technology. It does not organize anything. A human actor acts to organize the learning materials, and perhaps learning opportunities, that occur in that learning network.  While, from a connectivist view (if I am interpreting connectivism correctly), the learner can access 'learning' from a non-human appliance, I don't think that the act of providing materials is the same as being a teacher.

In their conclusions, the authors indicate that the "distinctive teaching power of a  MOOC arises from the combine 'teaching' efforts of  three components: a course team of collaborating professionals; a digital platform that tirelessly organises and provides feedback to learners; and the peer teaching capabilities of a collegial, experienced, qualified, group of participants".

Those three components, in my view, are available in traditional online courses as well, so I am not sure how MOOCs are different in this view.  However, I do think that there is a subtle distinction here around the concept of peers: they are collegial, experiences, and qualified.  This to me indicates that MOOCs do have pre-requisites (and those should be encouraged during development) and there is an aspect of collaboration hinted at with the collegial piece. I don't know if I've read in other pieces in the past about "ideal" learner characteristics for MOOCs.

Next blog post, chapter 2.  What do you think of chapter 1?

Milligan, S., & Griffin, P. (2015). Mining a MOOC: What Our MOOC Taught Us about Professional Learning, Teaching, and Assessment. In E. McKay, & J. Lenarcic (Eds.) Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): Strategies and Predictions for the Future (pp. 1-24). Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference. doi:10.4018/978-1-4666-8324-2.ch001

Monday, December 7, 2015

What's the usual half-life of an intellectual interest?

Now that school is over, and grading is almost over for the course I am teaching this semester, I finally have an opportunity to go through and continue my quest to read existing MOOC literature.  I had started this past September reading a collection of articles in an IGI publication titled Macro-Level Learning through Massive Open Online Courses which I got electronically for a limited time in order to do a book review.  Needless to say that between work, school, and personal priorities this book review (and reading of articles) went in the back, back, back burner.  I also noticed that colleagues Markus Deimann and Sebastien Vogt published a special issue on MOOCs in Europe on IRRODL recently.  It would not be an understatement to say that I could probably take a year off from my EdD program just to read all the MOOC related research that has been published (and retrieved) in the past two years.  I'd say it's been gathering dust, but it's all in two drawers, so it's pretty dust-proof ;-)

That said, even my friends and colleagues have noticed that I don't utter the venerable acromyn as much any longer - despite its promenance on this blog.  So, as I was thining about xMOOCs, cMOOCs, pMOOCs, rMOOCs, and all the other wonderful acronyms, I am wondering what the average half-life of a research interest (or curiosity) is.  I've been thinking about MOOCs since 2011, when I started with LAK11, CCK11, and MobiMOOC. I've worked on a number of fruitiful collaborations with a variety of groups on the subject. I've even been deemed as the MOOC expert on campus (as much as I don't like the title of expert). That said, I've noticed that my interest in coursera, edx, canvas network, and other MOOC providers has really wained.   Maybe it's because I am spending much more time on my PhD.  Or, maybe I've just burned the fuse on the subject of MOOCs and there is a need for academic renewal.  I am not sure.

So, the question is this:  How often do academics change their research interests?  Obviously the answer is probably not something that can be generalizable, however there should be trends that can help shed some light on this.  Do people in the academe pick a topic and stay with it for considerable periods of time, or do most of us act like bees, going from flower to flower based on an ever-changing set of interests?  While I am not aiming for a tenure track position (there are way too few of those around to even bother), I do wonder, if the opportunity ever arises, if a record of going from topic to topic (with no long term commitment to any specific topic) is something that can hurt those prospects for employment in a tenured position.


Thursday, December 3, 2015

Schooooool's out for December!....

...Schoool's out...until January...

OK, OK,... maybe my take on Alice Cooper's "School's Out" isn't as catchy...but it is indicative of the situation right now :-)  EDDE 803 is over, and I am waiting for EDDE 804 to begin.  Well, technically the course is over tomorrow, however all assignments are done and submitted, and I am not in maintenance mode in the forums.

The final assignment was really a reflection on the internship, what I got out of it, what things that I learned in the course I applied, and what I foresee applying to my own professional practice.

As I wrote in my reflection, both for the course and for the internship, I wasn't really sure what I was going to get out of it that I didn't already (somewhat) know when I came into the course.  My background is in instrucitonal design, and I have been teaching for a few years.  It's not that I think I'm perfect and that I can't improve, but sometimes you don't know what you don't know.  So, what did I take away from EDDE 803?  I'll focus on three things, one element from the internship, one from the cohort, and one from me as a learner.

First, the internship.  As I've (probably) written before, my internship was with Athabasca University's "Greek Cohort", which is a partnership with the Eastern Macedonia & Thrace Institute of Technology (one of Greece's Universities). Everyone in the cohort, as far as I could tell, had Greek as their native language, althrough the langauge of the classroom was English.  This isn't that odd, many people come from overseas to study, or attend online programs where the language of instruction is English.  What I found particularly interersting was that everyone involved spoke Greek in this particular class.  From this cohort I got that most people (if not all) were K-12 educators, which is not a typical demographic at the UMass Boston Instructional Design (ID) program that I am affiliated with.  I think it was a breath of fresh air for me, because as much as I like both Higher Education and Corporate ID, I really want to expand my own perspectives on the application of ID to this field.  The students were energetic, and the forums in this course were truly alive.  I really enjoyed this internship experience.  Now if I could find a way to continue to be affiliated with this Greek cohort...

Second, I think that I will say something about the cohort.  Building cohorts I think is a bit like cooking and chemistry.  Too many of the same type of people and you have an echo chamber.  Have too many different types of people and you risk not having a cohort gel.  I think our ragtag crew is just right. OK Cohort 6 and Cohort 8, if you are reading this I don't know much about your cohorts, so I am biased, so let's just say that I like my cohort.  One of the areas I've grown to appreciate more through this cohort is behaviorism.  Behaviorism wasn't really part of my repertoire as an isntructional designer, or a language educator and linguist.  It's very constraining.  However, I've also learned that what you learn in school is also only part of the story (a part that ends in the 1940s).  People have worked on behaviorism since, and because one of the members of our cohort is an applied behaviorism professional, we got to learn more about both past and current thought and research on behaviorism.  Had we not had this person in our cohort I think I would have just kept on ignoring (shunning?) behaviorism.

Finally, a little bit about me.  Now, it's true that the textbooks for the course (while pretty cool), they didn't contain a lot of new knowledge for me personally due to my background.  I could have had a really easy semester - if I wanted to.  However, as a doctoral student I think it's important to challenge yourself.  For some classmates, where the information was new to them, or fairly new, that was challenging - and this is fine.  For people like me, where we did pick up some new info, but it wasn't all new, I think it's important to create our own challenges.  I ended up tackling the topic of gamification.  I had read a couple of Jim Gee's books on the topic so I could have written something just based on that.  However, I took the opportunity to read 4 additional books that have been on my bookshelf since last summer on the topic, and do some more research, in order to expand my own knowledge - not to just check off a box saying that the assignment was done.

I am not saying this to receive some sort of kudos or an "attaboy".  I am saying this to indicate to prospective doctoral students, those who are thinking about applying to programs, or who have just started, that they need to challenge themselves.  Sometimes if you are in a course where some material you already know, then you need to to find ways to extend and expand your knowledge.  It's not just up to the professor and the course to challenge you.  You have an environment, and a group of people with you, to help provide a space for opportunities. However you should not expect those people and environments to be the primary, or even end-all-be-all drill sargeant for all your learning.  You need to develop your own internal drill sargeant to get you going!

Alright.  That's all I have for now on the end of 803.  I think I have 3 collaborative papers to help get on the road, and MOOC related articles to read :-)

So, how did YOUR semester go?

Friday, November 27, 2015

What's this about connectivism then?

Well, semester is almost over!  I think that I only have about 10 more days left in my 3rd EdD semester.  There must be a punchline joke here, but I am not finding it at the moment ;-)  Need some more sleep!

That said, for the third assignment I decided to tackle a topic that I was fairly familiar with - connectivism.  My buddy for this assignment and I worked together to put together this NPR-style interview introducing connectivism to the class, and to other people.  We had both read about connectivism before, and had a variety of articles cross our desks over the past few years, both the in the EdD program, but also through various cMOOCs I had taken.  It was just a matter of collecting the info and determining the appropriate presentation.

We both wanted to get some sort of OER out of this, so if people wanted to use the product they could.  That said, we did try other types of OER makers, the free type that allow you to create self-paced eLearning and allow you to upload the materials to an LMS, however that was way more complicated than either one of us had time for.  It's too bad that that kind of OER is such a monumental pain in the butt to make.  On the plus side, a recorded google Hangout, and camtasia do wonders!

I think that the keyword at this stage in the game is simplicity.  Now that this is done, I need to focus a bit on the internship. Luckily I am off the hook for ePortfolio and Mahara videos.  The program will have a course preparing students for the ePorfolio a little down the road, so I've been given the all clear from my professor to not do that part.  I find it odd that when I posted in the course forums if anyone had any burning questions about the ePorfolio that no one responded.  It makes the task of an instructional designer a bit harder, considering that there is no starting point - no 'problem to solve' with given parameters so to speak.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Not sure if I posted this a while back, but here is a recording of a virtually connecting session from dLRN (is it dee el arr en, or dee learn?).  I am joining Jim, Patrice, Maha, Gregory, Adam, Kelsey, Jack, and Christian


Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Catching up with posting virtually connecting sessions I've appeared in :-)

In this one I joined Helen, Maha B., Maha A., David, Martin, Mary, and Claire.  This was at the OpenEd15 conference (Vancouver) after David and Mary's keynote "Supporting Open Textbook Adoption in British Columbia". This took place last week.

Monday, November 23, 2015

OpenEd15 virtually connecting Thuesday session?)

Catching up with posting virtually connecting sessions I've appeared in :-)

In this one I joined Helen, Maha, Patrice, Rebecca, Autumm, Mike, Phil, and Alan. The session was at OpenEd15 (Vancouver), which took place last week.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

BIT2015 virtually connecting session

Catching up with posting virtually connecting sessions I've appeared in :-)

In this one I joined Helen, Sylvia, Patricia, Camille, Peter, and Sarah.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

On simulations

One of the presentations this week in EDDE 803 was from a fellow classmate that talked a bit about simulations.  In the ensuing discussion I was reminded of a course I took as part of my MBA which used simulations.  I thought that this would be a worthwhile post for here (as well as class) - at the very least it's one chronicle of my learning journey prior to the EdD.

Queue flashback visuals and music
When I was doing my MBA, one of my courses was a supply chain management course (fun with math and probability). One of the course activities was for us to break up into groups of 4 (so we had 4-5 groups in the course) and we were manager of a widget making factory. We needed to pick production size, route to retail, and predict demand (given certain finite factors) in different stores. The goals was (of course) to maximize profit. The game sort of looked like SimCity - sort of-, so for some of us it was also a bit of nostalgia (having grown up with that game). The game is pictured to the right and can be found here.

I think at the heart of things this was a really interesting, and potentially potent, activity, and it had potential to be awesome except for the stipulation that the most profitable team would get an A, the second most profitable a B+, the third most profitable a B, and so on. This was actually quite demotivational and it lead to errors made due to panic and fear that we would be last in the class. This means that some calculations may have been sloppy - leading to choosing the least optimal path, and it lead to some team-members hijacking the game settings instead of reaching consensus - the "I know better approach".

In retrospect, thinking about game-based principles - specifically the ability to allow players to fail and restart without penalty, and keeping in mind that not everyone likes competition, I think this activity would have been better if designed differently. Having such high stakes doesn't allow for creative solutions to be conceived. Raising the stress level might simulate 'reality' but I also think it makes for a poor learning environment when you are a novice.

In the end, the instructor didn't give grades lower than a B on the assignment (if I recall correctly), but I still think it was a missed opportunity for something more extraordinary.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Gamifying Learning - EDDE 803 edition

It feels like it's been a long time since I've written here.  Well, still here, still alive, still cracking away at those books, and articles, and assignments for 803.  Initially, before this course started,I thought it would be a walk in the park given my background in instructional design.  Maybe that was my error.  While, content-wise, it is a walk in the park (given my background) I think I swung the pnedulum a little too hard in the other direction looking to make this course more challenging for me.

So for one of my big assigments I picked gamification as a topic - a topic I knew a little something about thanks to two xMOOCs I completed.  However, instead of resting on my laurels and using what I had learned in those MOOCs, I decided to try and read at least 5 of my (unread) books on gamification and games in the classroom (self-imposed goal) to gain some greater understanding on the topic before I wrote about it.

In the end, a lot of what I picked up was left on the cutting-board since the paper was 5,000 words max, and the presentation that accompanied it was only meant to be 30 minutes.  I feel like I've made great progress in my personal reading list, but maybe I increased the stress for 803 to 11 for no reason ;-) I ended up sleeping for 3 out of 7 days (not consecutively) a couple of weeks ago to catch up on sleep (and to get over whatever cold  I had caught).

I am kind of wondering if cosmic powers are pushing me to the limits of my ZPD with this course since I thought it would be a walk in the park, or if it's my own failure of self-regulation ;-) I need to go back to "this is good enough" mode lol.

Here is the presentation I came up with for class (it hinges on audience participation, but you get the gist). 24 days until the end of class.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Half-way there! Mid-semester tired thoughts.

Well, in addition to being Back to the Future Day (you know, October 21, 2015), I noticed that my count-down on my phone is telling me that it is also exactly mid-semester!  We have completed 44 days of coursework and there are 44 more days to go!  EDDE803 is progressing smoothly I would say, the internship in MDDE 620 is still pretty interesting, and the forums there are quite active. I get a lot of energy from seeing students in 620 participating the forums!

That said, I am feeling pretty tired! I don't know it it's just "hump-week"  - you know, that week in the middle of the semester when you feel that you are climbing a steep hill and you just want to sit down, but you gotta keep moving - or just that I really need a vacation (or this damned cold that doesn't want to go... ) :-).  Either way, I hope that once the current project is done that I will feel like I am on a skateboard rolling down hill to the finish line - i.e. lots of fun, and a rush, and not at all like now - feeling like I am dragging my feet.

On the docket for the next 2 weeks is Assignment 2.  While it's only meant to be 4,000-5,000 words, and probably just an introduction, to a topic in teaching and learning, since Jen P. presented on gamification in 801, I didn't want to rehash  her work, and information from the Gamification MOOC from 2012 (one of my 2 primary sources for my own gamification knowledge).  So, I finished reading 3 books on gamification and games in education, and I am now working on both McGonigal's Reality is Broken (in audiobook format) and Sheldon's The Multiplayer Classroom (in print). I think between six books and some background info from my previous gamification knowledge bases (both MOOCs) I should be more than fine.

I was originally planning on gamifying my presentation, build in some audience engagement, maybe have my classmates do some pre-work, but I am not sure how to work the mechanics right at this moment.  Once the paper is written I should have a better handle of how to gamify the presentation - if indeed I go down this path.  It's hard to gauge audience reaction and reception sometimes.  I get the sense that we are all tired coming into our seminar presentations, so I don't know if gamification of a presentation will delight or annoy my cohort-mates ;-)

A couple of weeks after my gamification paper and presentation, I have a presentation on connectivism as well, so I guess I will need to start reading (and re-reading) some articles I have saved on that, and some new ones that have come out since, in order to present something semi- or quasi-comprehensive.  Once these two assignments are done, I think I will be in down-hill-skateboard territory.

On a side note, I signed up for EDDE 804 (registration is open for next spring) and books for that should be here by next week.  I guess they'll have to be shelved for another 30 or so days until the semester ends ;-)

Oh yeah... where's my hover board?

Monday, October 19, 2015

xMOOCs as on-demand documentary viewing

For the past semester I've mostly ignored synchronous learning on coursera.  Instead of consuming materials as they are released, I log in once a week, download the videos for the course, and I keep them in my video library.  If there are textual materials available as well, I donwload those, but I tend to focus more on video materials. When inspiration (or curiosity) strikes, I dive into the specific course of interest and have a video play.  At the moment I tend to play lectures in chronological order, the order that they were listed in - in the course I got them from.

So, why not use coursera as "intended"?  Well, the predominant reason is the lack of time. These past two semesters have been quite busy for me and I don't have the time or inclination to do things as they are released by content providers (yes, I know - the noun used was quite deliberate).  There are also a lot of interesting courses being offered, not just on coursera, but also other MOOC providers. This means that my time, little as it was before, now becomes less when you think of the plethora of stuff that's out there.  My initial tactic was to sign up for many xMOOCs and view things later, but as I discovered, some MOOCs, once the course if "over", have adopted another annoying approach of traditional education - making content in-accessible. So, when I sign up for MOOCs, I download everything I can.  I probably contribute to the great number of 'non completers', but 'completing' a MOOC means many things to many people.  I'll complete the MOOC on my own terms ;-)

I know that some MOOCs are 'on demand' on coursera, which means that you can access them anytime, however those don't easily allow for video downloads. At least, I have not found a way to download for offline viewing thus far, so I usually don't sign up for those.

So, in thinking about my own, recent, use of xMOOC materials, I was thinking of public television, things like the national geographic television channel, documentaries. I was also thinking about  on-demand viewing venues like amazon prime, hulu, and netflix (and to a much lesser degree things like torrenting).  I think over the past 10 years (probably a little more) we've seen a huge change in how entertainment media is accessed and consumed.  Initially we had time-shifiting with devices like TiVo, so you didn't have to watch something on the day that it was on - you could watch it at another time.  Yes, VHS tapes also accomplished the same thing but I had a hard time programming my VCR to do this, whereas TiVo seems to have made it user friendly (even though I never owned a TiVo).

We also experienced place-shifting with things like Sling players which allows you to view things that are outside of your georgraphic region. So, if you are an mid-westerner living abroad, you can watch your local football team abroad if you want. Provided that you have mobile bandwidth, you could watch your local TV locally on your mobile as well. Finally, we have providers such as Hulu, Netflix, Amazon, Apple (and the list goes on) that allow you to stream materials to your device.  Some, like Amazon recently, allow you to download a copy for offline use. So, if you are on a plane, or away from the web, you can still watch what you've paid for. So, in the end, you aren't tied to a broadcast model, one where the preferences are set by external interests, but by your time, availability, and mood.

Along with these revolutions in how we consume media, I was thinking how much I liked documentaries as a kid, and I was thinking back to high school where we were required to keep a journal in some science classes (watch a documentary relevant to your science class topic and write about what you learned). And then it hit me.  I am using xMOOC videos in a similar manner as I do television shows these days.  The heuristics of xMOOC videos (at least the social science and history ones I tend to follow) are such that they encourage this type of viewing.  I can just add them to my iPad and I can view them while I am on the train, or while shaving (most of them seem to be talking heads, so no worries about cutting myself), or while gardening (ditto on the talking head).  Learning, then, becomes embedded into other activities.  This is not because the learning isn't engaging - if it were boring I wouldn't be doing it - but rather because the heuristics of materials provided as the bread and butter of the course seem to point to that usage.  If a learner doesn't have the need to engage socially with fellow co-learners, and if the materials don't connect in ways that encourage such social aspects, then nothing is lost. Now...if only those videos were all OERs...

Compare this with cMOOCs. More specifically a cMOOC called creativity for learning in higher ed, The collaboration and discussion component is a large part of the MOOC.  To get the most out of this MOOC you'd have to be engaged in the course, via discussions and exchanges with other co-learners, because that's what the design heuristics dictate. Since I am currently too busy with school and work for this MOOC, I probably won't participate in it as it exists when many are working in that space. I do however think that I will most likely come back in December once the semester is over and I can take a breather.

To wrap up, back to my xMOOC videos as documentary viewing - what do you think?  Should we encourage such asynchronous view of  learning and engaging in the material? What does this do to our current notions of 'completion' and 'engagement'?  How about assessment of learning?   Your thoughts?

Friday, October 16, 2015

So long, farewell, auf viedersehen, adieu! ;-)

Well, after a couple of month of not paying the Ning bill is dead!  Well, the domain is still fine, @cdetorres got that one for 10 years, but the Ning community that it pointed to is pretty much dead.

So what is was Well, back in 2008, when I started my MEd in instructional design, the outgoing class was looking for a new president for the student association (GIDA - Graduate Instructional Design Association).  This association - I later found out, started at some point in the early 90's (the program began in 1984). Since I didn't want to see the hard work of previous officers go to waste, I thought I would step up and take over the presidency.  At the time, someone's final project for a course was to look into communities of practice, and as part of it they created a Ning community, which at the time provided freemium service, so for the student the community was free.

Within a few months of taking over I discovered that the network owner had created the network with their email, which made it a pain to transfer the network, so I created a new network that summer and kickstarted GIDA 2.0, which I nicknamed UMassID (UMass Instructional Design).  Since 2008 I've been inviting current students of the program and alumni to join and to create a community of instructional designers.  In the end I think we had around 500 members.  @cdetorres also got us the nifty domain (until 2018), and John Mazz. created an updated logo for us. So, we were all set to go and launch our new community!

Once Ning went pay-for-play I successfully got the department and college to pay for the service for a few years, but with other obligations on my docket at the moment, lobbying hard for a community (which was mostly dormant) didn't seem like a good use of my time.

So, 8 years in, what have I learned about communities, community building, and communities of practice from this experiment?  Well, In the original paper I wrote about this (written a couple of years into the experiment), the three big take-aways were that:

  • A community manager is needed
  • A community needs a mission
  • You need volunteers
With a few more years under my belt, I would also say the following:

Field of Dreams lied 

That is, if you build it they might not come ;-)  Having a space on the web for people to come and join doesn't necessarily mean that people will come, or that people will stay and a community will take hold.  One of the things that happened was that the community (at some point) was seen as "AK's place" because I spent a lot of time putting in resources of people that my name got associated with it.  Others did not take up the mantle of the community as much in the early years, so most content had my name associated with it. Since students are busy people, a community like this needs better integration - which leads me to point #2

Department Buy-in

I think one of the important stakeholders in this type of community is the academic department itself.  It's not just important to support the next by mentioning it here and there, and to pay the bills once a year, but it is important to utilize it. In teaching contexts we speak of teacher presence. I think something similar exists in network. A department needs to be active in the network by posting jobs, announcements, and news there.  I also think that faculty have a huge part to play by incorporating such networks into their courses. For instance, Athabasca University has the landing (their social network based on Elgg) incorporated in EDDE 802 and 806.  Now, do I visit the landing frequently?  The answer is "no", even though our cohort has a group page there. I find Elgg a bit hard to manage, for one thing, and our cohort's facebook page much easier to interact with. Other EDDE courses don't require access to the landing, so I meet my cohort where it's easier for me. That said, I do think that if the social network was promoted and content were made available I'd be there more frequently, which makes me think that if MEd courses incorporated UMassID into their courses (in a tiered fashion) then the network might provide interesting bits for everyone.

Managing a network is time consuming

I guess  I had much more time earlier on when I picked up the network, but this stuff is time consuming - and finding volunteers to shoulder the responsabilities is not easy ;-). That said, I did find it rewarding.  Finding resources to share with other people was enriching for me as well because it got me to look for stuff that was outside of my own domain.  It's a good thing I went in before the lights were turned off and saved a page of Instructional Desinger Resources that I had created for the community. Now I just need to updated it and curate it :)

I am not sure many people will mourn the loss of  The community needed a mission, but it seems that the mission driving GIDA, the one from the 90's, was not sufficient in the 2010's to keep it going.  To some extent I think that communities go through cycles, and some communities re-work themselves, re-form, and re-combine to create new ones.  I do wonder what the next community for the ID department will be like.  

What are your experiences with creating and fostering communities?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Week 5 down... Week 6 here we come!

Time seems to be on fast forward these days.  Either that or I have too many things to do, and not enough time to do them in.  When did week 5 just end?  Time flies when you're having fun, and when you have a ton of your plate I guess.  The past couple of weeks on EDDE 803 have been relatively 'quiet'.  We haven't had discussion forums, and our live session was cancelled due to unforeseen events.  The internship is fast and furious with a lot of discussion forum posts, and I assume that the short gradeable assignments will start to come in at some point soon in that course.

In the internship I actually ended up partly grading the first of the papers that came in. I grade it first, and the instructor of record looks it over does the final actual grading, this way the learner gets feedback and I get feedback as well. Since I've been teaching for a few years I am approaching this as an opportunity for peer review, so I am approaching my role as an intern in a mostly-an-instructor (but not quite) way.  It took me a few weeks to settle into this role, but this is what feels comfortable at the moment.  The only thing that's still a little fuzzy is helping this cohort of learners with their ePortfolio.  I haven't quite gotten around to making heads or tails of this fuzzy directive.  There is an ePorfolio moodle 'course' (more of a community really) for AU, so why not use that? I guess, phrased differently: what is lacking in that course community that requires my intervention, and how can I best address it.  I think this will be a week 6 and 7 goal for me (answering this question), which will give me  five weeks to do something before the semester comes to an end.

In terms of EDDE 803, the next big deliverable, due in a couple of weeks, is a paper and presentation on some aspect of teaching and learning.  I decided to go back to games and gamification.  Even though Jen presented on this last year (probably around this time of year too), I thought I could expand a bit on the subject.  Starting with her presentation as a jump-off point, I decided to read through some books on games and gamification that I acquired a few months ago and not tread the same path as her.  I was thinking of gamifying the presentation itself, but with the clock ticking down, I am not sure how successfully I'll be able to do this.  I think I will go back and review some coursera videos I have on Gamification (Werbach's MOOC), and Games in Education (Steinkuhler & Squire) to see if I am forgetting something (which I probably am at this point). Inevitably things will be left out because there is only so much you can include in a 4,000 - 5,000 word paper.

I guess keep on keeping on is the motto, until the end of the semester?

Monday, October 5, 2015

Lurk on, dude, lurk on!

The other day, while catching up on my (ever growing) pocket reading list, I came across a post from, friend and fellow MobiMOOC colleague, Inge on MOOCs.  It was a rather on-the-nose post about MOOCs, learning, assessment, and the discourse used in MOOCs about learners. Concurrently I am working with a Rhizo team on a social network analysis post where the topic of 'completion' came up, and we started discussing  the real connotations of completion.  How does one measure 'completion' in a MOOC? Is it a worthwhile metric? and what about engagement?  Finally, to add to this volatile mix of intellectual ideas, I am working on a conferece presentation, with fellow lifelong learner and MOOCer Suzan†.

These raw materials made me think back to the early discussions on MOOCs (before the 'x' ones came out) and discussions about lurkers in MOOCs.  Before the xMOOC came out we didn't seem to frame non-visible members of the community as 'dropouts' but rather as lurkers.  There were probably people who quit the MOOC, as in they came, they saw, it wasn't for them, they left - but we left the door open for them to be lurkers if they wanted to.

Early on I viewed MOOC participation sort of similar to the participation patterns in a community of practice (at least those that I had learned in school) which are visually depicted by the image in this post.  ~90% are lurkers, ~9% contribute, and ~1% contribute a lot‡.  In one of my earlier MOOCs, #change11, I engaged more with the idea of lurkers, and the main thesis I had (at least in retrospect) was that at most they were harmless onlookers, at worst they didn't contribute to the continued well being of the community.  I viewed (and still view) learning as a communal activity, so the more people participate in the network of learning the better the outcome for everyone.  It allows depth  of conversation, different discussions to take place, and diversity of opinion.  When a lot of people lurk, my concern was, that a critical mass for community purposes would not be available so that a experience learning could either not get off the ground, or it would not be possible to sustain it.

Fast forward to 2015.  After more than 100 xMOOCs, cMOOC, pMOOC, rMOOC, αMOOC, βMOOC, γMOOC, and other free online learnign experiences I am not really sure where I stand on the subject of lurkers.  Well, I do, but I am also conflicted.  See, learner choice is one big aspect of learning.  You cannot really force anyone to learn something, or participate in some experience.  This holds true for open learning experiences like MOOCs, and for closed experiences (paid courses, seminars, workshops, etc.). Intrinsic motivation is important in learning, and it's what pulls the learner through times, both easy and difficult.  In this aspect, if what motivates learners is for them to lurk, or just participate in certain weeks or modules, then that is not only perfectly OK, it should be encouraged.

The point of conflict, however, comes in kicstarting and sustaining the learning community. Let's say I am an open learning designer♠ and I have this awesome course I am thinking of designing for a certain demographic.  Sort of like hosting a party I don't want it to fail. I want people to attend, be engaged, and have fun (and learn something in the process).  What can I do to make sure that there is a minimum mass to sustain the course through it's x-week duration?  Do I do anything to recruit and tend to the learning garden? Or do I let it run wild, and if it succeeds - then great, and it fails (like a lame party), then that's OK too?

I guess what I am asking (and proposing a discussio on) what are some #altMetrics for MOOC success other than visible participant engagement, or 'course completion', or any one of the traditional success factors?  By de-coupling attendance from success metrics, I think we can be quite fine with having a ton of lurkers in our MOOC, and still having a MOOC be a success.  Lurkers get what they need, active participants get what they need, course designers get what they need.  It's a win-win.  But - how do you get there?


† You know, when I tell people (who already have a PhD) that I am pursuing my EdD online through Athabasca University I get a bit of a sour face. They can't fathom how you can develop academic relationships that lead to stimulating discussions (and papers) at a distances.  Between my cohort and the people I've met in MOOCs I think I have had more mental stimulation that people in residential programs - just saying ;-)

‡ Wonder if this triangle is a distortion, sort of like Edgar Dale's corrupted cone...

♠ Mark my words, Open Learning Designer will be a job title soon enough if it's not already. Prbably a type of instructional or learning designer ;-)

Monday, September 28, 2015

Why Open?

The other day I was reading a recent post by Jenny Mackness on questions about being open. Jenny had attended the recent ALT-C conference and was responding to a fellow ALT-C participant's questions on openness.  Specifically Viv Rofle ponders:

I’m questioning not just openness by my motives behind wanting to contribute to it.

  • What motivates academics and teachers to get involved in areas of practice that are NOT supported by their institutions? 
  • Why invest even longer hours in supporting educational practice? My dentist doesn’t give me free root canal treatment outside of work? 
  • Why personally finance conference attendance and travel, and what are the implications of this for the education sector? 
  • What is in it for those willing to ‘go open’?
These are good questions, and I think that the fact that I, a non-participant in ALT-C, am able to view, ponder, and engage with such questions and discussions is really the reason why you'd want to be open. Even things such as virtually connecting is only possible due to the openness of others. I don't see it as freeloading (as some might) but I see openness as an opportunity to augment, enhance, and expand the conference and learning experience.

I guess, like Jenny did, I want to address Viv's specific questions one at a time.

What motivates academics and teachers to get involved in areas of practice that are NOT supported by their institutions? 

Well, I don't know.  I guess I'd need to do some research on that in order to come up with some sort of answer that is generalizable. If I take some anecdotal evidence, both from my own lived experience and from stories I hear from other open colleagues, I would make the bold claim that to be in academia means that you should ascribe to notions of openness.  I know that this is a philosophical stance, and that others may not share in my views of academics, however why would someone devote their life to teaching and/or to research if they are not willing to be open about what they do?  In research results need to be validated and vetted. One of the ways to do this is to be open (and honest) about your methodology and how you obtained your results.  In teaching if you are closed you don't share anything. 

How does one teach without sharing?  I often am perplexed with academics who throw copyright statements on their syllabi.  What the heck for? Have you found the most awesome and most effective way to teach Introduction to Biology or Intermediate Accounting? I am sure that there are others who approach the subject in both similar and different manners but students still learn.  I often think that such crazy actions on the part of academics is driven by fear and uncertainty rather than selfishness.  I do think, however, that the path out of fear and uncertainty is openness.  Those who are open - again my small anecdotal sample size - find themselves with more opportunities.  In the end I think that the original motivation for being open is the wish to connect with others, and to share know-how, and to engage with them. There may be benefits beyond this as well, beyond the altruism.

Why invest even longer hours in supporting educational practice? My dentist doesn’t give me free root canal treatment outside of work? 

I am not sure that the analogy is apt. I also think that it depends on where you work.  Even as a professional staff member (not a faculty), many of my previous departments were open to me spending some time engaging professionally and intellectually outside of my department's work. So long as department work was done and there were no issues, I had some academic freedom†. That said, I think that many of us do not see our jobs as simply something that pays the bills. I am not going to go so far as to call the job "a calling" - I often roll my eyes when I hear that, but I do think that we have fun with what we do, even if there are things in our jobs that grind us down.

As such, there isn't this on/off moment whereby during the hours of 9am and 5pm we turn off our interests and focus on mundane work, and a 5:01 we turn off work and we focus on what makes us happy.  There is often an overlap - which does have the real danger of losing balance between work and fun.  That said, being open doesn't mean being open all the time.  If you need to take time off, or don't feel like posting your syllabus as Creative Commons document right now, that's perfectly fine.  You are open on your own terms, and there are shades of open. I know that there are people out there that would disagree with me, but from where I stand open is not an all or nothing proposition.

Why personally finance conference attendance and travel, and what are the implications of this for the education sector? 

I think that this is a personal choice of individuals.  I personally don't personally finance conference costs and attendance.  The money that I save for vacation goes toward vacations where I can see new sights, explore new cultures, and eat new food (also toward seeing the same ancient Greek monuments and eating the same yummy Greek food). I have a philosophical issue with paying my own money to attend conferences.  I try to find conference attendance on the cheap.  I look for conferences that I can attend for free if my conference paper is accepted.  I look for conferences that my employer can foot the bill for.  And I look for conferences that are local where I don't have to pay for hotels or airfare.  This generally means that I only really attend one or two conferences per year (one in Boston, MA and one in Providence, RI) but that doesn't matter to me. What being open means to me is that the entire year can be a conference. Between virtually connecting, cMOOCs, and other impromptu work that I do with my open colleagues, I end up learning more, and meeting more people than attending a paid conference.

What is in it for those willing to ‘go open’?

I think the WIIFM (what's in it for me) question is also the wrong question to ask.  While an exchange mentality is OK in some contexts (negotiating work salary for example), I think it's the wrong frame of mind for open.  If you are asking the question, my gut reaction is that you are not ready to be 'open'.  It might sound a little yoda-like in its philosophy, but the benefits of open (at least in my own small sample size) are not always visible, immediate, or quantifiable.  For instance connections with fellow colleagues aren't something you can monetize or take advantage of.  Opportunities may arise in the networks that you are part of, and hence by being part of an open network you could reap some rewards down the road, such as landing a new job, learning of a publishing opportunity you didn't know about before, or participating in research that interests you but would have gone under your radar.

For me being open - keeping in mind that I've defined open as 'degrees of openness' - is sort of along the same lines as 'being kind to people'. No one ever asks WIIFM to be kind to others, unless of course you are philosopher.

Your thoughts?

† obviously I am not using academic freedom in the same sense as faculty do :-)